Ian Curtis has always been some sort of tortured soul poet to me and Joy Division is not a light and airy band, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures.
It begins at the beginning. At that first Sex Pistols Manchester concert, that inspired this lot of guys to make their own music, and follows through to the tragic end when Ian Curtis takes his own life right before a big American tour. Hook’s writing is honest and deeply personal, he doesn’t hid details in order to make himself look better, and it is often funny to the point of you find yourself laughing at the crap they did. The story of the band is told through time lines and record trackings and also by Peter himself. It often feels like you are in an intimate situation with him, having a pint at the local pub as he tells his side of the story.
Hooky manages to humanize Ian Curtis, giving us a different version that the one I had read about in other books. You do get insight on Ian’s epileptic fits that plagued the band, his troubled marriage and his affair, it is after all part of the Joy Division history. What you don’t get is a long drawn out, in-depth version of what happened to Curtis. It is a story of the band and the struggles to make that band happen. Hook, instead, gives us an Ian Curtis that is a regular Manchester lad. One that plays pranks with his band members, drinks in pubs and loves his dog.
I think for me, the best part of the book, is it made me pull out my dusty Joy Division vinyl and listen to them again. As Hook suggested, I read the track list notes he had written for Unknown Pleasures and Closer as I listened to the songs. This gave me a completely new outlook on a lot of the songs and I was realizing things about them I hadn’t before.
If you read Unknown Pleasures, and you should if you are a Joy Division fan and you hadn’t already, I highly recommend that you do the same.